Avatar (Review)

AVATAR (12/18/09; Sci-Fi, Action, 3D)
Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi, Joel David Moore, CCH Pounder, Peter Mensah, Wes Studi, Stephen Lang
SCR/DIR: James Cameron
MPAA: PG-13 for intense epic battle sequences and warfare, sensuality, language and some smoking.
2 hours 41 mins
BOX: $760,507,298

Worthington plays paralyzed ex-Marine Jake Sully, a genetic match for a deceased brother taking part in the science arm of a military occupation (Humans have landed on lush forest moon Pandora with massive mining gear and enough firepower to make Jesus weep in search of a rare pricey mineral cheekily named Unobtanium). Jake will inhabit a chamber and awaken in a biologically-engineered alien Na’vi body (avatar) so he can interact and learn everything about them.

Scientists seek to better understand the pagan-like people who can plug into their planet like a laptop to a network. But the military and corporate goons have other ideas. If you’ve seen Dances with Wolves, I don’t need to draw you a map as to where Jake’s allegiances will ultimately lie, so I’ll spare the details here.

But on his way to realizing the Evil That (Human) Men Do, we learn about the Na’vi and see things we’ve never seen on a movie screen before. That’s not to say we haven’t seen similar floating mountains and winged creatures on Roger Dean album covers, but that’s another subject. Cameron’s vision of the planet Pandora, with its vast waterfalls, savage beasts and living neural network of soulful trees is simply stunning. My head knows that it’s all computer wizardry but that never mattered any time the beautiful Neytiri (Saldana) lets out a guttural wail to show her heart is breaking.

Cameron is no less than this century’s Cecil B. DeMille, delivering crowd-pleasing spectacle every damn time. Say what you will about the man’s dialogue (and people have), he doesn’t skimp on the visuals. Technically speaking, Avatar features the most effective use of 3D I’ve ever seen, never egregiously violating the fourth wall but using its dimensions to create an immersive environment.

Cameron has created a masterpiece filled with strong performances, mythic arcs, exotic creatures and unforgettable visuals that will invariably change the way films are made. Avatar may wear its influences like bumper stickers but there is no denying it’s a rock ‘em, sock ‘em crowd pleaser greater than the sum of its parts.

KING OF THE UNIVERSE: Cameron did it again, with Avatar besting his own Titanic to become the biggest modern blockbuster of all time with over $2.9 billion at the global box office. The total was bolstered by a theatrical re-release that included nine additional minutes. However, it won just three of its nine Oscar nominations, losing Best Picture and Director to Cameron’s ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow and her war flick The Hurt Locker. Not surprisingly, Cameron has announced his next two movies will be sequels to Avatar. (20th Century Fox)

— DENNIS WILLIS

Author: Dennis Willis

Dennis Willis is an award-winning producer, TV host, producer, director, editor (he preferred Avid until a torrid affair with Adobe Premiere, and the rest is history), author and film critic (print and radio). Dennis produced and hosted the TV programs Reel Life, FilmTrip, Soundwaves (1983-2008) and produces the annual Soundwaves Xmas program. He is currently the film critic on KGO Radio in San Francisco, and a member of both the San Francisco Film Critics Circle and the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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